Bulls confident they’re going places this season
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter January 5, 2014 7:17PM
The Bulls’ Joakim Noah works against the Hawks’ Elton Brand and Kyle Korver (rear) on Saturday. Noah had 10 points and 12 rebounds. | Nam Y. Huh/AP
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The Bulls are 5-2 in the last two weeks, tied for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs started today, the sixth-seeded Bulls would face the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks in a very winnable first-round series.
The catch is that nobody seems to care. Though the United Center was nearly full on a bad-weather night Saturday in Chicago, the Bulls beat is lifeless right now. Victories against the Boston Celtics and Hawks don’t resonate any more than losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Toronto Raptors. The biggest news has been Joakim Noah walking into the Thunder’s locker room in Oklahoma City. Since Derrick Rose’s injury, it’s not only difficult to figure out in which direction the team is headed, but in which direction it should be headed.
But while Chicago anticipates the start of spring training, the NFL draft and the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls are ignoring the lack of interest and working, winning and believing they will be a factor. An ‘‘ugly’’ victory — Noah’s description — Saturday against the Hawks was only a small step for a team that thinks there’s more to them than meets the eye.
‘‘I think there’s a lot more,’’ Noah said. ‘‘There’s a lot of time, a lot of basketball left. We’re just happy we got the ‘W’ tonight. We feel like the potential is there. Now it’s on us to execute on the court.’’
With Rose out for the season, the Bulls are operating without the burden or motivation of high expectations.
‘‘Of course, it’s different,’’ Noah said. ‘‘But the games keep coming. I think for us [the question is], what do we want to make of it? Are we going to pout and give up? Or are we going to fight to get better and do something special when the playoffs come around? I think we have the potential to do that. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication.’’
Actually, it’s going to take more than that. Statistically, the Bulls are as good defensively as they’ve been under Thibodeau: second in the NBA in points allowed (92.2 per game) and third in field-goal percentage against (42.9 percent). But their offense leaves them with zero margin for error. The Bulls are last in the league in scoring (91.3 points) and field-goal percentage (42.2 percent). They were 12th in field-goal percentage in 2011-12 (45.2 percent) and 13th in 2010-11 (46.2).
‘‘The big thing is getting everyone back and healthy,’’ Thibodeau said when asked about the offense. ‘‘And hopefully [the injury to] Carlos [Boozer] will be short term, which I believe it will be. This is the first time we’ve had the group relatively whole.
‘‘When you practice well, you play well. People sometimes don’t understand the deconditioning that occurs when you don’t practice. You have to stay sharp.’’
Furthermore, Thibodeau is confident he can instill in them the signature mental toughness of his previous Bulls teams that can make this one a threat to beat anybody. And he means anybody.
‘‘It really doesn’t matter what other people think,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘The only thing that matters is what we think and believe. If you defend and rebound and keep your turnovers down, that’s eliminating ways in which you beat yourself. Then if you play inside-out and share the ball and make good decisions and get good shots, you’re going to shoot a good percentage.
‘‘If you do those things, you’ve got a great chance of winning, no matter who you’re playing against.’’